updated 2/8/2006 2:02:05 PM ET 2006-02-08T19:02:05

Traveling provides the opportunity to experience many things, including embarrassment. Oh boy, does it.

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Like the time I traveled all day in a new shirt with the sales tag hanging from the sleeve. Or the time I barged in on a fellow passenger in the airplane lavatory. Or the time I ranted and raved at a hotel clerk about a lost reservation before realizing that I was at the wrong hotel. Or when I walked in on a couple in a hotel room who were — how shall I put this? — getting in some extra sack time. Indeed, my list of embarrassing moments seems to get longer every few trips.

Like you, I find moments such as these only add to the stresses of travel. Yet according to Dr. David Allyn, author of “I Can’t Believe I Just Did That,” embarrassment is a perfectly normal response that is both appropriate and useful. “It’s a natural reaction to a situation where a societal rule has been broken,” he says. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with embarrassment at all. It just underscores our human nature.

Human nature or not, embarrassment can be … well, embarrassing. So, what can you do about it?

You can’t avoid embarrassment altogether, but you can improve your chances of dodging some uneasy incidents by taking a few precautions. Here are the ones I practice — all drawn from the edifying lessons of experience.

Confirm reservations. When you make reservations for a ride, a room or a meal, you may well be dealing with an underpaid, poorly trained and unmotivated employee who will not even be on the payroll by the time you show up for your reservation. It’s best to make sure your reservation is still on the books before you arrive to claim it.

Double-check locations. It was only when I arrived at the airline departure gate for my return flight that I discovered that my ticket was for a San Francisco area airport. I was on my way, like it or not, to San Jose. Unfortunately, my car was in San Francisco. I had just learned another lesson to file with the ones about “downtown, “midtown” and “city center” hotel locations.

Carry spares. If you have a history of minor travel-related calamities, pack along some extra items that can get you out of your fix. If you tend to snag your pants, dribble on your blouse or get paper cuts, then a needle and thread, a spare top or extra bandages can prevent things from becoming worse.

Announce your arrival. A knock on the door or a loud voice preceding your entry into an unpredictable situation gives potential embarrassees an opportunity to head off an awkward moment.

Enter slowly. Maybe a soon-to-be embarrassee is, well, too embarrassed to respond to a polite knock on the door. Or maybe he thinks the knocker will go away if no reply is forthcoming. Or maybe he just doesn’t hear the knock. In any case, proceed with caution.

Use every lock available. Locks are useful for keeping out bad guys, but they can also keep you out of embarrassing situations — like having your underwear fly out of your overnighter, or having an addled guest barge in on you while you’re brushing your teeth (or worse). A locked suitcase won’t prevent it from being stolen, and a flimsy chain lock will do little to discourage a determined criminal, but both can prevent some awkward moments.

These suggestions may help you avoid some embarrassment, but you’re almost guaranteed to find yourself in an embarrassing situation sooner or later. For these awkward moments, Dr. Allyn offers some pointers.

  • First, he says, acknowledge your faux pas. Offer a brief apology. Keep it short and simple, otherwise you will prolong the embarrassing moment. “Oops,” “Sorry” or “Excuse me” can be enough.
  • Next, he suggests saying something like, “Have you ever done something like this?” The question takes the attention off you, which dissipates everyone’s embarrassment. Revealing your “human side” can even open up more meaningful dialog with those around you.
  • Similarly, if you want to help another person get past an embarrassing moment, mention that you have found yourself in a similar situation. A light touch on the person’s arm will provide some reassurance and comfort as well.
  • Avoid losing your temper, both with yourself and with others. Uncontrolled behavior is just another thing you will have to be embarrassed about.

Oh, and if you see a guy passing through an airport with a sales tag hanging from his sleeve, don’t be embarrassed to come over and say, “Hi.”


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